Outage zaps grads’ big day

Had someone hand picked the day, it would have been difficult to find one worse than Saturday to have an all-day power outage.

Thousands of South and Central Whidbey residents lost power Saturday when a Greenbank transformer blew out. The outage not only inconvenienced thousands of home and business owners, but nearly stopped South Whidbey High School’s indoor graduation ceremony entirely.

According to Puget Sound Energy spokesman Tim Bader, about 10,000 PSE customers south of Greenbank lost power around noon. He said the equipment failure that caused the outage has been blamed on “normal wear and tear.”

The lights didn’t go on for most customers until about 3:30 p.m. The last customers to regain power were at about 7:30 p.m.

At South Whidbey High School, where a noon graduation ceremony was to be held in the school gym, event organizers had to scramble to pull off the class of 2004’s big sendoff. School principal Mike Johnson said the power went out 10 minutes before the graduation ceremony was set to begin. The windowless gymnasium — which was full of people and darkened prior to the start of the ceremony to keep it cool — stayed dark and hot as the school’s venilation shut down and the fire alarms in the school began to wail. The alarms were the clue something was not going right.

“A lot of them just sat around and visited,” Johnson said of the gathered crowd. “A number of people didn’t know the lights were off anyway.”

About 15 minutes after the ceremony was set to begin, Johnson got on a megaphone to let the crowd know the commencement would be delayed due to the outage. But the show would go on. After briefly considering moving the crowd outside to Waterman Field to hold and outdoor ceremony, high school staff picked up generators donated by Double R Rentals and Sebo’s Do-It-Center to fire up the lights. Fire District 3 also set up a portable generator to help power the event.

While staff was setting up microphones and lighting from the drama department for the stage, the school wind ensemble kept the friends and families of the graduates entertained. Johnson said the decision to use generators was made quickly, since power had gone out for a few hours at the high school two days earlier when a tree knocking down a tree near Langley.

“I wasn’t about to sit and wait for a couple of hours for the power to come back on,” he said.

Looking back Monday, Johnson said the graduation went off well considering the bad fortune. The ceremony began at 12:51 p.m. and ended around 2:10 p.m. and, he said, looked great illuminated by stage lights instead overhead fixtures.

“It was more of a theater type of setting,” he said. “It might be a plan we use from now on.”

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